Exhibition: “Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects”

18 January – 6 February 2019  | Galleria del Progetto, Politecnico di Milano, Milan


TRACES – Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts: From Intervention to Co-Production will conclude its three years research programme with a two-day conference “Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts”, that will take place in Milan on 17-18 January 2019. The symposium is conceived to provide a critical overview on the main findings and results ensuing from the investigations and the Creative Co-productions developed within the project, as well as to foster the critical debate about the transmission of contentious heritages and the process of “Reflexive Europeanisation.” The meeting intends to promote an inter-disciplinary and forward-looking discussion aimed at opening new perspectives based on the Project outcomes.

The Simposia will culminate in the opening of TRACES final exhibition, “Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects”, curated by Suzana Milevska at the Politecnico di Milano.

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The project Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects is a research about research: it is based on a long-term cross-disciplinary curatorial exploration of art-based research and artistic research projects. However, the exhibition is not about just any kind of art or artistic research. Focusing particularly on various methodologies, artistic research methods and strategies that are employed by contemporary artists the exhibition features those artistic practices dedicated to durational and exhaustive cross-referential investigations of difficult tangible and intangible cultural heritages: reflected in images, objects, spaces, and events that have problematic pasts or inhabit present contentions.
In this respect, some of the pertinent questions that triggered the exhibition concern which objects, images and spaces are considered contentious cultural heritages (Sharon Macdonald), and how they are transmitted and reflected in the European ‘culturescapes.’ These issues are extrapolated regardless of whether the researched materials are included or displayed in collections of various European art and cultural institutions, or they are presented in public spaces or kept in other contexts.

The exhibition aims to map and critically reflect the state of art in both, the field of artistic research methodologies and in research-based art practices that deal with the shame linked to contentious heritage and its associated images, objects, entire museum collections, monuments, architectural objects, or public spaces. The stereotypical and racialised representations; institutional reluctance to acknowledge the questionable provenience of unlawfully acquired objects and unethical sponsorship; as well as propositions of how to deal with the repressed memory of spaces once inhabited by conflict or are marked with contested monuments dedicated to disgraceful historic figures or events; collective memory about commoning movements that contested the appropriation of public space; are just some of the researched topics addressed in the projects presented here.
Most importantly, in bringing these projects together, the exhibition addresses the possibility for catalysing social change and fighting recent hateful outbursts from the far right in Europe and elsewhere (e.g. anti-Semitic and anti-Roma sentiments, racism towards indigenous and black populations, and prejudice towards LGBTQ communities) in the context of current debates regarding the reciprocal relations between art, academia and political activism at the intersection between institutions of art and civic society as well as other socio-political structures.
Furthermore, the exhibition explores the application of various theoretical and research methodologies (already developed in art history, museology, anthropology, ethnology, sociology, pedagogy, political sciences, etc.), together with artistic research methods, artistic media, strategies and actions in terms of their specificity, appropriateness, applicability, and efficiency in accomplishing these challenging goals, on both ethical and conceptual levels. The projects include, but are not limited to, the use of critical analysis of vernacular art, field trips, photography as research, lecture performances, interviews, focus groups, hybrid records, critical databases, video essays, curatorial forensics, militant image research, institutional critique, thought experiments, social intervention, participatory research of art made in prison as well as elements of material culture, re-enactment, activist campaigns for naming and renaming, counter-monuments, social design, agonistic research, critical friend, creative co-production, petition, public apology, manifestos, critical and social advertising, advocating and lobbying for decolonisation, repatriation and restitution.
Most importantly, instead of dwelling on negatively charged memories, the exhibition celebrates art that deals with shared or multidirectional memory (Michael Rothberg), and productive shame (Paul Gilroy) in a committed and catalytic way. Consisting of selected archival documents and photo, audio and video documentation of academic and artistic research, the featured projects and practitioners focus on various relevant and often sensitive thematic clusters by employing various methodologies and theories, while proposing specific research methods and strategies capable of contending with their selected subjects.


Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects presents ten art-based and artistic research projects, a two-day conference, and several pop-up events. Politecnico di Milan’s Hall will host the comprehensive archives of five projects realised by ‘creative co-production’ (CCP) teams created in the context of TRACES (or pre-existed the project): Absence as Heritage—Răzvan Anton, Julie Dawson, Alexandra Toma; Awkward Objects of Genocide—Erica Lehrer, Roma Sendyka, Wojtek Wilczyk, Magdalena Zych; Casting of Death—Domestic Research Society (Damijan Kracina, Alenka Pirman, Jani Pirnat), Marko Jenko, Janez Polajnar, Marijan Rupert; Dead Images—Tal Adler, Linda Fibiger, John Harris, Joan Smith, Anna Szöke, Maria Teschler-Nicola; Transforming Long Kesh/Maze—Martin Krenn, Aisling O’ Beirn; and several additional long-term research and/or participatory art projects: Solidarity Day (a campaign with CultureShutdown platform) and Memory Matrix—Azra Akšamija, (T)RACE-ING LOUIS AGASSIZ: Artistic Renegotiations of Archive, Memory & Place—a result of Sasha Huber’s collaboration with the campaign Demounting Louis Agassiz; the initiative World Communal Heritage—Rena Rädle and Vladan Jeremić; Research without Guarantees—collective Urban Subjects: Sabine Bitter, Jeff Derksen, and Helmut Weber; Alfred Ullrich’s project On the Move including his campaign regarding the sign LANDFAHRERPLATZ KEIN GEWERBE (Eng. Site for Travellers: No Trading); and the research file Monumentomachia—Suzana Milevska. The projects are divided into four different chapters according the topics addressed and research strategies applied: ‘Invisible Heritages,’ ‘Contentious Objects and Images,’ ‘Spaces without Bodies’ and ‘On Productive Shame.’

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Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects stems from the long-term research of the Principal Investigator at the Politecnico di Milano and curator Suzana Milevska whose focus is the state of art in the realm of current debates surrounding artistic research and the results of the Horizon 2020 project TRACES—Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts: From Intervention to Co-Production.

Dr. Suzana Milevska is a visual culture theorist and curator from Macedonia. Currently she is Principal Investigator at the Politecnico di Milano (Horizon 2020, TRACES). From 2013 to 2015 she was the Endowed Professor for Central and South European Art Histories at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and she taught at the Visual Culture Unite at the Technological University in Vienna. She was a professor of history and theory of art at the Faculty of Fine Arts—University Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Skopje. Milevska was Fulbright Senior Research Scholar in Library of Congress (2004). She holds a PhD in Visual Cultures from Goldsmiths College. Milevska’s publications include Gender Difference in the Balkans (VDM Verlag, 2010), and the readers: The Renaming Machine: The Book (P.A.R.A.SI.T.E. Institute, 2010), On Productive Shame, Reconciliation, and Agency (Sternberg Press, 2016), Inside Out—Critical Discourses Concerning Institutions (co-edited with Alenka Gregorič). In 2012, Milevska won the Igor Zabel Award for Culture and Theory.


A rich sequence of activities and pop-up events will be organised over the entire duration of the exhibition, by Răzvan Anton, Leone Contini, Nora Landkammer and Karin Schneider, Ian Mcdonald and CoHERE Project, Ian Alan Paul, Karin Reisinger, Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar.



Politecnico di Milano, School of Architecture Urban Planning Construction Engineering
Galleria del Progetto, via Ampère 2, 20133 Milano

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Important dates:

> 17-18 January: Conference: “Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts”

17 January 2019 | MUDEC – Museo delle Culture, Milan
18 January 2019 | Politecnico di Milano, Milan

> 18 January: Angela Vettese Keynote speech and exhibition opening by the curator, Suzana Milevska | 6.30 pm

> 21 January:

9.30 am | Curator’s Guided Tour and Educational Workshop, Suzana Milevska, Nora Landkammer, Karin Schneider

3.30 pm | Absence as Heritage: Sun Printing Workshop, Răzvan Anton

6.00 pm | Wandering the Colonial Body, Leone Contini

> 22 January: Who is Europe?, Ian Mcdonald, CoHERE Project | 6.00 pm

> 23 January: La Orilla Infinita (The Infinite Shore): A slideshow Lecture-performance, Ian Alan Paul | 6.00 pm

> 25 January: Deep Space: Re-signifying Valle de los Caídos: Workshop, Elizabeth Sikiaridi, Frans Vogelaar | 4.00 pm

> 29 January: Staying with the Mining Pit, A Feminist Cartography, Karin Reisinger | 6.00 pm


The catalogue of the exhibition will be online soon.

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“Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects” Press Release

“Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects” Catalogue_double page

“Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects” Catalogue_single page

POP-UP Events Programme

POP-UP Events Leaflet